In Search of the Perfect Tree

Brian, Debbie and Louie the cat in front of our tree in Missouri--Taken Christmas 1977

Brian, Debbie and Louie the cat in front of our tree in Missouri–Taken Christmas 1977

 

Once upon a time, we lived in the woods in Missouri. We lived there for three years before returning to “civilization.” My special memory about those years centers around our annual tree displayed in our dining room beside our circular table.  We always put up our tree the week before Christmas, enjoyed it through the holiday season and then took it down. But the day the tree was chosen was awesome.

Howard, Brian, Debbie and Heidi the poodle--Taken in Missouri December 1977

Howard, Brian, and Debbie getting ready for their adventure–Taken in Missouri December 1977

On the day of the grand selection, Howard, Brian, Debbie, Louie the cat and Heidi the poodle would embark upon their journey into the woods. Howard shoveled a path leading down toward the woods. And then the procession began: Howard leading the way with his axe in hand, Brian and Debbie behind him, Louie the cat springing from tree to tree along the path, and Heidi bringing up the rear. I stood on the back deck watching them disappear, and then returned indoors. While waiting for them to return, I lined the kitchen counter with boxes of ornaments and checked on their progress from time to time

Debbie, Brian, Me and Louie the cat--Taken in Missouri 1977

Debbie, Brian, Louie the cat and me–Taken in Missouri October 1977

 

***

We moved to the woods in October 1977, and Louie the cat moved in with us. He belonged to the prior residents and vanished into the woods the day they were moving. Thereafter, he accessed the house through the open dryer vent until we hooked up the dryer. When he resorted to sitting on the porch railing and meowing through the window, we decided to make him a member of our family. The former resident did stop by one day–a heart-stopping experience because Louie was already a member of our family, and we were afraid he wanted him back.

“Naw!” the man told us. “We have another cat now. Louie took off, and we decided he would be happier here.”

The man was just there for the window air conditioner.

Needless to say, we were greatly relieved. We had already grown attached to the little orange tabby.

Brian and Heidi the poodle on our back deck--Taken January 1978--just before the blizzard!

Brian and Heidi the poodle on our back deck–Taken January 1978, just before the blizzard.

Heidi the poodle joined our family Christmas 1977. We traveled to Ames, Iowa where Howard’s parents lived, enjoying our Christmas at home a day before our departure. The actual celebration was in Ames, and Howard’s parents had recently moved there. A medium-sized black poodle greeted us through the glass window in the foyer.

“Mom has another poodle!” Howard commented.

She wagged her pom-pom tail and shook the jingle bells on her head. We didn’t know it when we first arrived, but our family would have another member upon our departure. Heidi returned to Missouri with us. She missed the 1977 tree hunting expedition, but she was certainly present for Christmas 1978. After that experience, she always accompanied Howard whenever he headed down that path into the woods. So did Louie!

***

Presently, the tree gatherers returned: Howard dragging a tree behind him; Brian and Debbie hopping from drift to drift; Louie the cat still springing from tree to tree; and, Heidi bringing up the rear. Once the tree entered the house and was secure in its stand, Louie shot up the middle. For the three Christmases we lived there, I had to fetch the little rascal from inside the branches. Keeping him from repeating the performance was a major hassle! His other favorite trick was to drink up the sugar-water at the base of the tree!

Brian, Howard and Red the pony--Taken Summer 1978

Brian, Howard and Red the pony–Taken Summer 1978

We stayed in the woods from Fall 1977 until August 1980. By Spring 1978, we were joined by Red the pony, who no doubt also joined the tree procession as well.

The annual tree processions discontinued after our move to Colorado with the advent of artificial trees. And while I enjoy decking the halls each year, I will never forget the simple life we lived in the woods and the custom of selecting a real tree!

 

 

 

The Case of the Missing Figurine

Mother's favorite decoration, ca. 1953

Mother’s favorite Christmas decoration, ca. 1953

Sometime about December 1953, my mother decided to go shopping for a special Christmas figurine. We were living on L Street S.W. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa–the area where I grew up. My parents’ house was an older two-story with the dining room just off the kitchen. My mother (Elva Gail Spence Inman) had a large buffet inside the dining room, and she wanted to find a Christmas piece to display on top of it beside the candy dish. We were in school at the time, so she caught the bus and went downtown, engaging in her shopping expedition.

“I know what I want to get!” she told me. “And I hope they still have it in the store!”

Later that afternoon when we arrived home from school, a candy cane figurine adorned with angel children decorated the top of the buffet.

“Is that the one you wanted?” I asked.

“Yes, and I bought it in Sanford’s! It was the last one they had!”

Mom kept the figurine inside its box through the year.  Then each December, she removed it from the box and displayed it on the buffet. After Christmas was over, she returned it to the box where it remained for another year. She took excellent care of that figurine. I think she enjoyed it more than she did the tree. Mom wasn’t one to “deck the halls” like I do. She kept the holiday simple: a decorated tree standing in the living room; a Nativity scene on the book case; and that candy cane figurine on her buffet.

Mom passed away in September 2003. Shortly after her death, boxes began arriving from Iowa. One of them contained all of her Christmas decorations. And at the bottom of the box, I discovered the familiar green holiday box containing the candy cane figurine.

“Oh my! She still had this!” I exclaimed.

That was the first year I displayed the figurine in my front window, something I have done each year since 2003. And then came the present year. After spending nine hours “decking the halls”, I realized that something was missing. I scanned the living room while wondering what I had overlooked. That’s when I noticed the empty spot on the window sill!

My discovery propelled me downstairs to the room now cluttered with empty boxes. I always go the extra mile when the annual “decking” takes place. Each year I add something new to the environment. My sister once told me I reminded her of Snoopy and his heavily decorated dog house. Let’s face it! I like a lot of figures and lights! I think my love of “decking” was born from the department store windows I saw in Cedar Rapids as a child. Those windows were full of movable figures and lights–something you really don’t see any longer. So each year,  I royally “deck the halls”–a display that lasts a month.

I stood in the “storage” room, staring at the empty boxes.

How could I be so stupid? I wondered.

For eleven years, I had been so careful placing that figurine back in its original box and placing the box back inside the large storage box with other decorations. Then I packed away all those boxes beneath a large table for the year. Now, I was really frustrated, launching me into another ransacking of all the boxes in the room. No green Christmas box or figurine could be found. But I located a number of other items I had been looking for.

“It will turn up somewhere!” Howard told me.

That didn’t ease my concern! I was soon tearing into other places in other areas of the house, and I found more things long placed on the Lost-and-Hope-I-Find-It list. Some of those lost items are now members of the “decking”. But no figurine!

This year, the “decking” took place the day after Thanksgiving. By now, it was Saturday, and I was still flustered concerning the missing figure. I realized how little I knew about it. I wondered whether I could find something about it on the Internet.

China candy cane with kids on it!

My search term!

It wasn’t long before I was directed to eBay. And after accessing eBay, it wasn’t long before I discovered how expensive that little figurine had become ranging from $100 on up! I saw one for $295. Then I had to review last year’s photographs to verify whether my Mom’s figurine fell into this classification.

It did!

According to Collector’s Weekly:

Founded by Hungarian sportswear designer George Zoltan Lefton, Lefton China of Chicago, Illinois, imported porcelain decorative objects such as figurines and head vases, as well as kitchen wares such as cookie jars and salt-and-pepper shakers, from postwar Japan. From 1945 through 1953, these pieces were stamped with the words “Made in Occupied Japan.” Figures from 1946 to 1953 may also bear a red sticker with either silver or gold trim on their bases, which reads “Lefton’s Exclusives Japan.” Objects made after 1953 added the words “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off,” while those made after 1960 swap that phrase for the simpler “Trade Mark.” Unfortunately, during the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, the use of these stickers (and others) overlapped, so they are not a perfectly reliable way to date a piece of Lefton.

Beginning in the 1970s, Lefton began contracting with potteries around the world, from China and Malaysia to Italy and England. Fortunately, this global diversification had little impact on the quality of Lefton pieces, which is generally better than that of direct competitors such as Nike NAPCO and ENESCO. More variable is the look of Lefton figurines. For example, there is no such thing as the quintessential Lefton dog. Some are realistic, capturing the appearance of poodles, German shepherds, terriers, and basset hounds. Others are a good deal more syrupy and sentimental, such as the numerous versions of big-eyed puppies with bows around their necks. And then there are the figurines that are just plain silly—how else to describe a puppy wearing a hunting cap and carrying a shotgun, looking down at the innocent duckling that’s staring up at him from inside the canine’s bag?

Christmas figurines were a perennial favorite; Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course, but also adorable elves, angels, and children, some of which resembled candy canes with faces, arms, and legs. Especially popular is a character called Little Miss Mistletoe, whose cherubic face and short ponytail are tilted as she leans down to tie her red slipper. In fact, recurring characters were a big part of the Lefton catalog, so much so that Lefton had a number of lines devoted to them, from the secular Doll House Originals and Bloomer Girls to the religiously inspired Christopher Collection, which featured within it a group of Heavenly Hobos. In particular, many people gravitate to Lefton’s angels, which are often marked with the name of a month or a day of the week.(1)

The company’s founder, George Z. Lefton, was born in Hungary and set up his company in Chicago. Some of his pieces are marked George Z. Lefton, Geo Z. Lefton, G.Z.L. or just Lefton. An article titled “The Lefton Company” notes:

Japan was occupied by the Allied forces with its unconditional surrender in August of 1945. The Allies’ plan was to help Japan rebuild and grow, but not to allow Japan to have the manufacturing capabilities to rearm itself. Pottery and porcelain manufacturing fit into the areas of acceptability as set by General Douglas McArthur and the Allies.

Lefton was one of the first American businessmen to deal with the Japanese after World War II. The first pieces of Lefton China with the “Made in Occupied Japan” mark reached the United States in 1946.

Lefton China produced in Occupied Japan included a wide range of pieces, dating from 1946 to 1952. Designs ranged from delicate, formal pieces with gold edging and soft floral patterns to the whimsical and playful designs of the 1950s. Many of the pieces of Lefton China from Occupied Japan were produced by the Miyawo Company during this period. The quality and price were both good on Lefton China pieces from this period.(2)

Okay–so I discovered some information about the maker of the piece. But what if I no longer had the piece?

What if I threw it away?

A year ago, I had disposed of some of my boxes. What if I accidently threw the figurine away? What if it was in its original box, with that box lodged inside one of the larger boxes I tossed?

Don’t tell me that!

Wearily I searched eBay, wondering whether I could find a replacement.

Not at these prices!

Perhaps I could find one not in pristine condition–something on the “cheaper side.”

Making a long story short, I actually got two. One is probably the same vintage as my mother’s. It was displayed quite a bit and had been moved around as indicated by some dings and paint wearings. It also has different children figures sitting on the candy cane. I decided to display that piece in my front window. The other was the same type of piece with children figures and no markings. Apparently, the original owner bought it from Cracker Barrel. I checked out the Cracker Barrel collectible store site and discovered they have sold Lefton figures over the years. This one still has the plastic cover on it and is still in the original box. I may just keep it that way.

These acquisitions didn’t satisfy my desire for my mother’s lost piece. However, I soon realized that if I threw it away, searching for it was a waste of time. I might as well just forget about it.

It was Sunday night, November 29, 2015 Howard and I were settling in for the Broncos-Patriots game being played here in Denver. The first quarter was somewhat slow, and it appeared the Broncos were going to lose.

Just like I lost my mother’s figurine! I thought.

But I had made so many “David vs. Goliath” statements prior to the game, I kept thinking “The Broncos are not going to lose! They are going to win!” And that quickly translated to “Just like me! I did not throw the figurine away! I’m going to find it!”

Back downstairs, I studied the empty boxes still strewn about the room. Perhaps I should retrace my steps! Perhaps there was something I overlooked!

I sat on the floor beside the huge box that houses most of my decorations. The smaller boxes had been tossed out of it, so it was mostly empty. The large box partially extended from beneath the table. I scooted to the other side, pulled back the lid and peered inside. And I saw–

“–THAT BOX! OH DON’T TELL ME! DON’T TELL ME!”

When I removed the lid, what to my wondering eye did I behold?

“MOM’S FAVORITE CHRISTMAS DECORATION!”

Followed by my yell up the stairway–

“HEY! GUESS WHAT I FOUND?”

I squealed my way through the rest of the game while admiring Mom’s perfect figurine. It has no flaws and the labels Geo. Z. Lefton and Made in Japan clearly appear on the bottom. No, I would not display it in the front window. That’s where my dinked replacement will reside when it arrives. Mom’s figurine is now displayed inside the box with cellophane over it in a prominent place in the living room! And after the season is over, it will be the first item returned to the large box in the storage area.

Then came another exciting moment of the evening.

Anderson caught the ball and went flying down the field toward the end zone. I leaped from my chair with my favorite pen in hand, getting ready to record the score. Jumping up and down, I screamed: “RUN! RUN! RUN!” My pen flew from my hand just as Anderson crossed the goal line.

The Broncos beat the Patriots–and destroyed their perfect season 30-24– in overtime–in a snow storm–with a second-string quarterback who was playing his second full game–and some running backs!

Now about my favorite pen–

 

References

(1) “Vintage Lefton Figurines.” Collectors’ Weekly Website. Date Accessed: 29 Nov 2015. Available online at http://www.collectorsweekly.com/figurines/lefton

(2) “The Lefton Company”. The American Antiquities Website. Date Accessed: 30 Nov 2015. Available online at http://americanantiquities.com/Journal%20Articles/TheLeftonCompany.html

 

A Special Thanksgiving

A Special Baptism: our family on the left; Howard's brother, Prince's family on the right

A Special Baptism: our family on the left–L-R: Barbara (Me), Howard holding Brian. Howard’s brother, Prince’s family on the right: Prince holding Kari Jo and Cleone on the end. Edward L. Beall, Sr. in the middle. Photo taken the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Farmington Presbyterian Church, Farmington, Missouri

Thanksgiving 1968 was a special one for us. Our son Brian was born August 6, 1968 in Louisville, Kentucky, and his cousin, Kari Jo, was born August 29, 1968 in Wichita, Kansas. We were all scheduled to make a migration to Farmington, Missouri for Thanksgiving that year. One reason? The babies were to be baptized by their grandfather, Rev. Edward L. Beall, Sr. in the Farmington Presbyterian Church. This would be Baby Brian’s first big trip!

Howard was teaching school. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and he was scheduled to be home by mid-afternoon. I spent the morning packing and making certain our dachshund Heidi was taken care of. Howard backed into the driveway–we loaded the car–and then we were on our way to Farmington by way of St. Louis. We were driving a 1967 VW Bug at the time, so we were certainly loaded down. Brian went to sleep, something for which I was grateful!

As I recall, it was cloudy–typical of a November day. We drove across southern Indiana and Illinois, and the rain began in one of those states. It rained lightly at first. I remember stopping at a restaurant somewhere in Illinois where I ordered my favorite breaded pork tenderloin sandwich and onion rings–something I generally don’t get outside of Missouri or Iowa. I laid Brian down in the booth beside me. He smiled at first. Then he decided that (a) he was in a strange place; (b) he was tired; (c) he was hungry–and he YELLED at the top of his lungs. Shoving the rest of the sandwich and onion rings down my throat, I bundled him up and went out to the car so the patrons could eat in peace! Wouldn’t you know it? He was sound asleep the minute I fed him. I sat inside the car, listening to the falling rain, wondering whether this was a foretaste of events that would happen.

And that’s when the drama began!

It was pouring down rain by the time we reached the Missouri River. And halfway across the bridge, our windshield wiper motor died right in the center of the bridge!

Talk about a frightening experience!

By some miracle, we made it across the bridge without incident. But we still had 60 miles to go. The rain was still pelting our car. There was no way we could drive 60 miles in the dark without windshield wipers! Howard called his father, who drove to St. Louis to pick us up. We left our car near a station and headed south to Farmington.

But the drama didn’t end there!

Just as we arrived at the house, Howard’s mother was leaving.

“I have to drive to Potosi!” she told us. “Prince and Cleone broke down there!”

Just then, the phone rang. Prince’s car finally started, so Mildred didn’t have to rescue them. We waited for them to arrive, talked for a while. And we all finally settled down to sleep.

But the drama didn’t end there!

When morning broke, the rain stopped–but it transformed into snow overnight leaving a sheet of ice on everything!

Howard’s brother, Ley, his wife Brenda, and their daughter Carmen were scheduled to fly into St. Louis from Kansas City, Missouri the next morning (Thanksgiving Day). Howard’s mother drove to St. Louis to pick them up, and Howard went with her. He wanted to retrieve his car in St. Louis since we didn’t want to walk back home to Kentucky! They checked on his car first, which was fine. Then they travelled to the airport where they waited–

–and waited–

–and waited.

Finally, they heard the announcement:

All flights from Kansas City have been cancelled!

The reason?

It seems that earlier that morning, a plane from Kansas City slid on ice on the runway in St. Louis. So they weren’t going to send any more of their planes to St. Louis unless and until the ice has been cleared. Now, I don’t know whether you are acquainted with the relationship between these two cities. There has always been a rivalry between them outside of opposing football teams. We lived in Kansas City in the 1960s before moving to Kentucky, and I remember how that rivalry was so pronounced. It may have moderated since then, but it was really strong at that time. I think it dated back to the Civil War. St. Louis regarded Kansas City as a haven for incorrigible outlaws and Kansas City regarded St. Louis as a haven for eastern Yankee snobs.

[Kansas City didn’t like Kansans (Jayhawkers) either in the 1960s. But that is another story].

“My kids were scheduled to fly in here!” my mother-in-law complained. “How are they supposed to get here?”

“Well, you’ll have to sit down and wait,” she was informed. “They are on their way–by bus!”

“BY BUS! ALL THE WAY ACROSS MISSOURI?”

“I believe that’s the direct route.”

She called to update us on the situation.

“This isn’t fair!” she complained. “I want to be there in Farmington holding my babies, and I have to sit here in this stupid airport all day. Well–we’ll have Thanksgiving when we all get there!”

Six hours later, they all arrived. Howard followed them down in his car, relieved that it was finally safe in Farmington. And once they all stopped talking and settled down at the table–the Thanksgiving feast was tremendous. Everyone enjoyed both the food and the conversation!

Then, when the dishes were out of the way–

“Well, we have to celebrate Christmas!” my Mother-in-Law announced. “You’re all here now, and you won’t be here next month!”

So, out came the tree, the other decorations, and the music. Once the halls were appropriately decked, we had our gift exchange. It was probably after midnight again when we finally ran out of gas! I remember the touch football game in the yard the next day. Then Brenda, Ley and Carmen had to return to Kansas City since Ley had to be at work at TWA that evening.

Sunday was the day of the baptism, the event so conveniently worked into our Thanksgiving-Christmas celebration!

The baptism was a signature event. Howard’s Uncle MacPherson Beall (people called him Mac) and his family drove to Farmington from St. Louis for the occasion. And Clan Beall all descended upon the Farmington Presbyterian Church, sitting in the designated section for honored guests. My father-in-law had been minister at that church for several years, so the gathering was a quite an occasion. Then came the moment of the baptism. Brian’s parents (us) and Kari Jo’s parents (them) journeyed to the front with the babies in tow. What I remember most about the baptism is that Baby Brian recognized his Grandpa Beall and began his little chant: “Da-da-da-da-da-”

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost! Amen!”

We had to have another celebration after all of that!

The MacPherson Bealls went to the house in Farmington as did the rest of the Clan. We had another feast (Thanksgiving leftovers) and plenty of dinner table conversation. Beall table conversations generally turned to politics and other world events. In those days, the conversation focused on Richard Nixon (the newly elected President) and what he planned to do about ending that awful war (Vietnam)–and whether or not Howard’s cousin, Scott, would be called up for duty. He said he expected it; his wife said “No!” (He did serve as a medic. He retired several years ago after many years as a surgeon!)

Our return trip to Kentucky was without mishap or misadventure. Brian slept most of the way. The sun shone brightly and the roads were clear.

And our little dog Heidi was certainly glad to see us!

 

Decking the Halls

Christmas Poinsettia, 2014

Christmas Poinsettia, 2014

When I saw my pumpkins bouncing down the street in the high wind this morning, I dashed after them. Fortunately, I managed to catch them before they bounced out of my reach, and I returned them to the house. Instead of placing them on the porch again, I took them inside and stored them downstairs. And just before opening the front door, I grabbed the wreathe from the mailbox. It was about to take flight as well.

Thanksgiving is a week from tomorrow. My pumpkins and wreathe were my outside Thanksgiving decorations. They didn’t make it until the holiday. I didn’t want to chase them to Kansas! The interior decorations are still in place. Gradually, I will start moving them downstairs through next week, replacing them with Christmas objects.

Now, if I could just get into the mood!

Christmas is coming, and I don’t feel like it. In the past, I always looked forward to Christmas.  It was my favorite holiday. Christmas almost slipped up on me this year without my realizing it!

2015 has been a year of challenges–the big one centering upon our son’s continued battle with cancer. He was declared cancer-free in May and two months later, his cancer was back. So he has spent the rest of the year undergoing chemo and other treatments fighting the disease. The doctor told him this was something he would have to fight the rest of his life. He has a particularly aggressive form of cancer.  I pray he receives a good report when he undergoes a scan in December.

Howard underwent his cancer treatments in February and March this spring consisting of five days a week for thirty-nine treatments. That was where we met our friend, Rex Swett. I’ve written about him previously. On Valentine’s Day, Rex and his wife appeared at the Cancer Center with small boxes of Valentine candy for everyone. I still have our Valentine boxes. The candy vanished long ago, thanks to the sweet tooth both of us have. I’m still trying to figure out a way to display those boxes. Rex passed away in August. But he became a good friend those short months we knew him. I believe that he knew he had only six months to live when he started his treatments at the center. His wife told me they were trying to think of all the unique things they could do over the next six months. One of his ideas was to take a train trip from east to west across Canada and end up on the West Coast. He didn’t get to do that, but he did make it to his State High School Basketball Hall of Fame Banquet in South Dakota in March. We got together in June for dinner. That is the last time I saw him.

As for me, I really have nothing to complain about. I just underwent my annual “wellness visit”, and it appears that I am fine. Everything seems to be functioning the way these body parts and organs are supposed to be functioning. So I will be writing this blog for a few more years.

I’ve had some wonderful successes with my Ancestry DNA matches. As of today, I think I have around 355. I’m also making headway on some illusive family lines. Finally got my mother’s Spence, Perry and Inman lines in shape! That took a year. Now I’m working on some of my father’s lines. I’m also in 22 DNA Circles. Looked at them today and noticed that membership in those circles is growing. Howard’s DNA matches are also blooming. I took my test last December, so I’ve been receiving matches for almost a year. Got a kit for Howard on Father’s Day, and he has almost caught up with me. But then, his surnames–Beall, Warfield, Polk, Dorsey, DeLashmutt, etc.–are popular. We did find out that we are connected on three lines: Beall, Gaither and Owings. So we are distant cousins.

And, hey! I ran into someone who connects with me on my Dad’s Cline line!  Just wrote an article on the Clines a few weeks ago, and now I have a DNA match on that line.  Also ran into someone with a match on the Drury line. So I’m getting there.

This blog has taken the place of writing books.  I like the format because as I make future discoveries, I can update the articles. I also have it indexed by the family line I’m writing about, and I have included other topics as well. I can also focus on different family groups from time to time rather than staying focused on just one.

So, this is basically our year to date.

Over the next few days, the interior Thanksgiving decorations will gradually disappear into boxes downstairs, and Christmas decorations will reappear from other boxes. As I put them in place, I will reflect on Christmases past. Perhaps I will add some of those memories to this blog in the form of a Christmas Past–Christmas Present–Christmas Future series.

Now that would get me into the spirit!

 

 

 

A Ship Without Weapons

William Gordon Spence (1918-1983) Taken in the 1940s. This photo hung on our wall for years.

William Gordon Spence (1918-1983) Taken in the 1940s. This photo hung on our wall for years.  His features favored my grandmother’s Hopper family.

The story I am about to tell happened a couple of years before I was born immediately after December 7, 1941. My mother’s brother, William Gordon Spence, was on a navy ship that had no weapons somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Had that ship been detected, it would have been destroyed and all those on board would have been killed.

From the Find-a-Grave Memorial I created and maintain for my uncle, William Gordon Spence was born December 30, 1918 in Neosho, Newton County, Missouri, and he died March 5, 1983 in San Francisco, California. The rest of the biography follows–much of which was taken from The Sterns Family History I found in my Grandmother’s photo album:

“William Gordon Spence was the only son of William Franklin Spence and Oda Elizabeth Hopper Spence. His two sisters were Elva Gail Spence Inman and Marian Elizabeth Spence Van Fossen. He moved with his family to Iowa about 1925 and lived in the town of Marian. He joined the U.S. Navy prior to World War II and made the Navy his career. On April 21, 1951, he married Veronica “Ronni” del Palacio/Anselmi in Los Angeles. Ronnie had two children by a previous marriage: Michele Anselmi Tarkington and Raymond Mario Anselmi. The Spences were based in Hawaii prior to relocation to San Francisco ca. 1955. They lived there the rest of their married lives. William Spence died in San Francisco on March 5, 1983 and is buried in the military section of Olivet Memorial Park Cemetery in Colma, California, (Grave 748)”(1). 

Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the ship my uncle was on. He joined the Navy during an isolationist period, and the ship did not have weapons. They were somewhere in the Pacific the day of the Pearl Harbor attack and knew they had to return to the mainland immediately. Since they had no weapons or any means of defense, they had cut all communications for fear of detection. All radio transmissions were silenced.

“And for two months, we didn’t know whether he was alive or dead,” my grandmother told me.

Then my grandparents received the news that the ship returned to California safely. Everyone on board was fine!

I can only imagine what those people on the ship and their families back home experienced while all of this was underway. I think the ship must have traveled north and moved mostly at night or through in intense fog and then made its way down the coast. At any rate, once the weapons were installed on the ship, it was sent out on duty again.

I heard this story when I was really small–late 1940s. And I heard it repeated by my parents and grandparents from time to time. I grew up wondering whether anyone else knew about that ship.

Fast forward to late 1990s.

Howard and I were living in Colorado. A friend of ours–a Navy veteran– lived with us at the time while he was going to school. He worked as a security guard at the local mall. One night, he came home with a movie he rented–some war picture I no longer remember.

“I heard the darndest story today!” he said as we turned on the movie. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

About halfway through the movie, I spoke up:

“This thing reminds me of a story I heard years ago about an uncle of mine. He was on a naval ship that had no weapons on it when Pearl Harbor exploded. They had to sneak back to the mainland, and for two months, my grandparents and parents didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. The ship returned safely, but what a harrowing experience!”

“You had a uncle on that ship?” our friend exclaimed.

“My mom’s brother!” I answered, surprised that anyone knew the story.

“I met a man at the mall today! He was on that same ship!”

So we forgot the movie and compared the two stories: my memory of my uncle’s experience and the man’s memories of the same experience on the same ship.

What a coincidence!

 

References

(1) William Gordon Spence Find-a-Grave Memorial No. 97969745. Find-a-Grave.com Website. Created: 29 Sep 2012. Date Accessed: 7 Nov 2015. Available online at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=97969745&ref=acom

 

My Mother’s Christmas Cactus

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The first time I saw my mother’s Christmas cactus, it was standing in a pot beside her breezeway door. And she told me the story about it–how her friend had given her a start of the plant. The friend also told her she should keep the plant outside during the warm months and bring it inside in the fall.

“That’s the only way it will bloom,” the friend told her.

So Mom followed her friend’s instructions, and the plant bloomed beautifully over the holiday season.

The following Christmas, I received a picture of her plant covered with beautiful pink blooms. And her letter included a question:

“Would you like a start of this plant?”

Well, I guess so, I thought. I recalled all my episodes with the English Ivy I carried in my wedding bouquet. Mom rescued the sprig–rooted it–planted it–and had it thriving. The start she gave me did well while we were living in Missouri, but it failed miserably in ultra-dry Colorado. But I would be willing to give the Christmas cactus a try. And when we visited Iowa the following May, Mom gave me my start of the plant.

“Remember to keep it outside from April or May until late September,” she reminded me. “Otherwise, it won’t bloom.”

I’ve enjoyed my mother’s Christmas plant over the years. There have been a few calamities, however. One summer night about three years ago, I was awakened with a loud noise. The next morning, I found my plant all over the yard–the result of a battle between two cats who included the plant in their chaos. I had to reroot it and repot it. Amazingly, the plant survived. But after that experience, I kept it inside the house in the basement during those warm months. The plant didn’t like the basement at all. It did not bloom last Christmas. So now, it is outside once again from spring to fall. I also learned how to fertilize it. And this year, it is loaded with buds that will open by Christmas.

Since acquiring my mother’s plant, I have added two additional Christmas cacti to the collection. Howard gave me one about three years ago–a multi-colored variety. He found it in the grocery store–the last one on the shelf. They sold it to him for a dollar because they thought it wouldn’t live very long. He brought it home to me, and I worked my magic with it. It only produced white flowers previously. This year, it also began producing a coral flower with the white and is so full and beautiful.

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Then yesterday I added my third cactus plant. Our super market had a variety of colors on sale, and Howard bought me a red one.

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I will work my magic with it this spring.

My mother received her start of the original Christmas cactus years ago in the 1980s. We moved to Colorado in 1980, so I probably received my start from her in the late 1980s. I know I have had this plant a long time. And look at it now!

My mother must be smiling!

Remembering Ramsey and Shadow

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Nine years ago today, our beloved Ramsey left us. He was born December 4, 1991, and he died November 25, 2005–so that would make him 14 years old. He was originally Debbie and Dee’s dog, and they acquired him from Dee’s cousin. Puppy Ramsey needed a home. Later, when Debbie and Dee moved into an apartment where pets were not allowed, Ramsey moved in with us. He became our dog the spring of 1992. So we had him about 13 years.

Part lab and part cocker spaniel, Ramsey had a black lab face and short cocker legs. He could run like the wind while chasing water sprays. And oh, did he love his ball! He was a wonderful dog!

Of course, he had to adjust to our black cat, Shadow, who had already lived in our house since 1985.

Shadow was born September 10, 1985 and he departed October 27, 1997. He originally belonged to a young couple– the husband, a rookie for the Denver Broncos that year. They had to travel a lot with the Broncos and felt sorry for the kitten when they were gone. So they were looking for a good home for him. Not only did Shadow move in with us just before Halloween that year, but he departed just before Halloween twelve years later.

Both pets looked like a couple of ink spots chasing one another throughout the house. A friend who spent some time with us later reported he heard those two racing after one another during the night. Not only did Shadow pester us about getting up in the morning, he often awakened Ramsey early–and the chase was on.

Their biggest tussle concerned the winter sun streaming through the front window and spreading across the floor. Ramsey would get there first. He would just get comfortable when Shadow would slide across the rug, swat him, and they would take off flying again. Perhaps the funniest thing I saw them do involved a swat Shadow gave Ramsey in the kitchen. Shadow had just awakened from his afternoon nap and entered the living room. He peered around the kitchen door in time to see the great black hulk drinking his water in the kitchen. I saw the ears go back–the crouching position–heard the whack–and the two of them were off flying again.

Ramsey didn’t know what to do with himself after Shadow died. We didn’t get another cat. And so Ramsey spent the rest of his days with us, getting older. He lost his vision before he died, and I’m sure he had cancer.

I remember the day we drove him to Boulder to have him put down. I rode in the back seat of the car with Ramsey, who was excited to be going somewhere even though he didn’t feel very well. The goodbyes were difficult. I grabbed him and held him for a while before Howard took him inside. It was one of the hardest things we had to do since Shadow died.

Shadow’s cremains are in a small container I keep downstairs. Ramsey was carried home inside the cover of his bed. I had to unzip the cover to retrieve his leash and collar. And then I remembered the treats and his ball I planned to place inside the cover with him. It wasn’t his favorite ball. Howard wanted to keep that, so he switched balls on me. I still have Ramsey’s favorite ball and am glad now that the switch was made. Ramsey was buried in one of his favorite places. We placed a concrete marker on his grave, and I later provided the inscription.

Today the marker has settled. The inscription vanished after several winters. I know where the grave is located and visit it from time to time. And I smile when I remember something.

Shortly after Ramsey was buried, I looked up toward the sky. Two seagulls flew overhead–one following the other.

Shadow and Ramsey! I thought. They can fly!